Updated: Jun 20, 2021
I make prayer boxes. Each one is unique. This image shows a prayer box that I made for a friend and it has a stone to hold, a color change bead, a candle and matches, a jar to contain scent, two poems, and a clay token.
Recently a different friend asked me what a prayer box is. My response: a portable box containing elements that help one meditate and pray (much like the traveling altar or Retablo). Apparently, at this time in life (my 50s), I am in need of a prayer box and I think that others might be too. I'm finding great meaning in creating them for people.
After creating a few of these, I have made a connection back to my my 30s and what I now call my first 'prayer box'. I didn't call it that at the time, but that's certainly what it was.
I spent my first few years of my professional life teaching teenagers at Jefferson Middle School (in Jefferson, Oregon). Something drew me to the elementary school and I took a job teaching a 1/2/3 grade classroom. I loved learning new facets of teaching and loved my colleagues. And there was a huge learning curve for a teacher moving from 6th grade at the middle school to a mixed age group of younger people. The math group I was responsible for teaching was a group of 1st Grade people and I was woefully un-prepared for the energy. At that time in my career I was earning my ESL (English as Second Language) teaching credentials and was supervised and video recorded. This turned out to be a humbling experience.
One video session involved dice and I remember watching as the little ones began throwing the dice in the air, joyfully feeling the thrill of sending those little cubes up and up and up. 'Oh no,' I thought, 'this is being recorded!' So in an effort to reclaim my authority, I gave a stern lesson in how to use the dice in our math game, "We don't THROW the dice like this (I forcefully threw the dice on the ground) do we? No, we toss them gently." I hadn't noticed that my supervisor had already stopped recording and she later told me she thought a different lesson might be better for the recording.
I did learn a lot about teaching younger children through my experiences that year and one of the most powerful lessons for me was also in math class. I had created an entry routine of dancing to Pink Martini music until all the students were in the room to move our bodies a bit before moving into our study of math. Students seemed to enjoy this routine. One day, Isabelle brought her scarf and used it as an extension of her arms to gracefully dance to the music. She became so involved in her dance that she didn't hear my directions to find a seat in the circle. She didn't hear me telling her (for a third time) to put her scarf away and sit. In my extreme frustration I took her scarf from her and put it on my teacher desk. I still remember how this felt to me. As I watched Isabelle sink into her seat, put her head on her desk and refuse to engage with the math lesson for the entire class, I thought, "That is exactly what a good teacher would NOT do."
I'm sure I did a LOT of praying during my early teaching days. This outlier year of teaching a mixed age group was so challenging (and wonderful) that it is also the year I remember uttering my first REAL prayer; a prayer that sprang from my heart. Not many words were involved. I know I had a feeling of frustration (I don't even remember what I was teaching or what activity we were attempting). Suddenly I had a thought of not knowing what to do next---my brain was empty of ideas despite all the classes I'd taken. I turned away from my class, opened the closet door behind me and whispered, "SHIT." I do remember feeling better afterward.
The feeling behind that moment of my life has stayed with me and I'm sure it has informed my idea for making prayer boxes. The prayer boxes I create are vessels to hold things that our bodies can connect with through our senses, and the vessel itself is important. Like the closet in my 1/2/3 grade classroom, the space inside the vessel is there to hold what I (or you) cannot carry anymore; a place to leave a burden or two, and speak the truth into.
This year I have collected components for unique prayer boxes: vessels, stones, glass jars, poems, handmade clay beads shaped liked birds. . . so many artifacts. I love making them. If you are in need of a prayer box, send me a message. I look forward to hosting groups where individuals can curate their own prayer boxes using the artifacts I've collected.